Aug 28, 2015, 11:48 PM EST
There is no one person responsible for the Nationals’ struggles this month. It’s never that simple. But Max Scherzer hasn’t exactly helped the cause.
Which, given the way things were going earlier this summer, is pretty hard to believe.
“You want to go there and compete and do everything you can to help the ballclub win,” the right-hander said. “When you’re not able to do that, it’s frustrating. There’s no doubt about it.”
Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the Marlins ranked among the more frustrating ones of Scherzer’s season, and by extension the Nationals’ season. He didn’t pitch horribly, not at all. He even retired 12 consecutive batters to end his evening.
But Scherzer once again was victimized by a couple of balls launched over or off the fence: A Derek Dietrich RBI double in the first, a Martin Prado 2-run homer in the third, a Marcell Ozuna solo homer in the fourth. Those three big hits were enough to make the difference in this loss.
“Three swings of the bat were enough for them against him tonight,” manager Matt Williams said. “He was strong, throwing the ball like he wanted to. He just made a couple mistakes.”
Such is life right now for Scherzer, who wrapped up a dreadful August with one final disappointing performance. When the month began, he owned a 2.22 ERA, having allowed three or more earned runs only five times in 21 starts. In five games since, he owns a 6.43 ERA, having given up three or more earned runs each time.
And lately, those runs have come via the long ball. Scherzer has surrendered seven homers in his last 28 innings (one for every four innings pitched). This after giving up only 13 in his first 150 innings (one for every 11 innings pitched).
“I don’t see nothing different, just pitching up in the zone,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “These guys have bats in their hands. They’re aggressive and they hit the ball well. Nothing to change. He’s doing his best.”
One of Friday night’s homers indeed was up in the zone: A 1-0 fastball to Ozuna at the letters that wound up sailing over the center-field wall. The other (a 2-2 fastball) actually was down and inside, off the plate, with Prado somehow turning on it and sending it flying deep to left field.
Whatever the case, the results speak for themselves right now. And the results haven’t been up to Scherzer’s usual standards.
“Sometimes they’re going to hit pitches for home runs, and I tip my cap to Prado for hitting that pitch,” he said. “That pitch is off the plate, and he hit it for a home run. Sometimes that happens. But there are mistakes within that outing that I’ve gotta shore up, so that when I do give up a couple runs that’s it. And that’s what’s frustrating.”
If Scherzer is frustrated right now, imagine how the Nationals collectively feel as this miserable month nears its conclusion. Though they’ve made strides in the right direction of late, winning three straight series entering this one, they’re still finding ways to lose winnable games.
Like this one. Despite his early struggles, Scherzer did finish his night by retiring 12 straight batters, at least giving his teammates a chance to rally. They nearly did, getting home runs from Ian Desmond and Ramos, then a sacrifice fly from Ryan Zimmerman that cut the deficit to 4-3 in the sixth. But they could not push across the one final run they needed to tie the game, and so they were left to stew over a 1-run loss on a rare night when they had a chance to pick up a game on the first-place Mets (who still lead the division by 6 1/2 games).
“None of us in here expect to win out, but it’s about winning series and playing good baseball,” Desmond said. “Cards will fall where they fall. We battled back today. Put up some really good at-bats, some not so good ones, but we gave ourselves a chance.”
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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